Christianity on Justice and Injustice

The Christian approach to state power and questions of social justice and injustice is complex. Christianity began as an anti-political movement—a call to join a holy community apart from the world in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus reportedly told his executioner, Pontius Pilate (John 18:36). With the conversion of Constantine (ca. 312) and the patronage of the Roman Empire, the church found itself allied with and dependent on secular rulers—the dominant arrangement into the modern era in Roman, Protestant, and Orthodox Christianity. The church’s overriding concern throughout this period was its own independence in organizational and spiritual matters. While popes and bishops sometimes condemned corrupt rulers as unjust, they rarely criticized wider inequities in state and society. While Protestants were most open to democratic ideas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in the United Kingdom and the fledgling United States, the Catholic and Orthodox churches roundly condemned the French Revolution and socialist movements as a break with a divinely constituted and hierarchical social order. Only with Vatican II (1962-1965) did the Roman Catholic Church embrace democracy as the most just form of government.